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3. Turning Inward (2150-2211)

Japan was increasingly turning away from the international community. The Pacific region where "pax Japonica" applied was largely at peace, and the Japanese were investing their best and brightest into the continuing development of the ocean. People with undue ambition were utilized by the expanding merchant houses, helping to extend Japanese economic strength in an ever-increasing geographical and technological range.

For the people in the Home Islands, though, perceptions of the situation were a bit different.

Japan was well on the way to establishing self-sufficiency in many fields. Economically, of course, it was a global success story, and Japanese commerce seemed likely to keep it that way for some time to come. More importantly, the region was relatively stable militarily; Japan provided the majority of its own food, energy and other requirements (except for tantalum, which was largely covered by purchases from Azania); and Japan had established itself as a semi-isolated state.

Thanks to "The Willow Endures," the Japan cultural self-identity had undergone a gradual and subtle shift. The Western civilizations, viewed as the most advanced in the world when Japan entered the modern age in the Meiji Era, were instead viewed as being technologically advanced and morally bankrupt. One example cited frequently was the emphasis placed by (particularly) Americans on personal success, while the Japanese tended to stress success of the family unit, often even at cost to the individual. This trend was accelerated by the family unit structure, which minimized the expense of the family while maximizing income and providing for full-time parents for child-rearing. The Confucian concepts of contribution (and even sacrifice) for the good of the many were deeply ingrained into the Japanese culture by this time (although, of course, the majority of citizens were also interested in improving their own lives and those of their families). While it was not often evident in daily life, signs of this philosophy could be found throughout society in the manner which the Japanese interacted with each other, worked and played together, engaged in community or national services, and even ran the PTA.

The first concepts of the "privacy shell" (in Japanese it is merely called the "yadogari," which literally means "hermit crab" - the crab which carries a shell around on its back and withdraws inside it for protection) also became evident in the period. The first recorded usage of the term "yadogari" occurred in 2163, in an editorial on social trends by Kumiko de la Roche in the May 23 morning edition of the "Shin-Nippon Times." The privacy shell is an extension of Japanese cultural characteristics which have existed since at least the 18th century, and basically is a set of cultural mores which makes it difficult for a Japanese to approach within a certain distance (physical or privacy) of another individual. Touching in public is, while not forbidden, certainly not common, and even eating is something usually done out of the direct view of others -restaurants exist, of course, but private booths or privacy curtains are common. Most utensils are throwaway, or recyclable plastic, as few Japanese feel comfortable using silverware or plates which have been washed after another person has used them.

A commonly heard apocryphal story concerns a diplomatic cocktail party where an Italian and a Japanese were talking, and in the course of the party drifted across the entire ballroom floor, quite unconsciously. The Italian felt comfortable talking about 30 cm away from the Japanese, and the Japanese felt uncomfortable at anything under about a meter... with the result that the Japanese backed up and the Italian advanced continuously. While the tale itself may not be true, the unconscious attitudes it describes are undeniable.

As the Japanese found it more and more unpleasant to deal with other in close proximity, the role of cyberspace within society grew by leaps and bounds. While network centers were severely damaged by the Twilight War, the optical fiber infrastructure was essentially untouched, and new systems were constructed and online within a decade. The ubiquitous PDA and cell phones used by most Japanese prior to the Twilight War fused to become a single unit capable of handling diverse tasks including communications (audio, video and data), databasing (onboard and server access), location and navigation using GPS, personal medical history storage, emergency medical transponder and more. Called "aniki" (literally, "big brother" in Japanese), essentially every Japanese had one from elementary school.

Coupled with a succession of increasingly complex and sophisticated sensory terminals, such as miniature monitors clipped onto eyeglass frames, earplugs and tactile mice, cyberspace became a common meeting ground. Cultural barriers to close physical interaction vanished when everyone was participating in a virtual environment, and as the neural interfaces became more and more advanced, these virtual worlds and online interactions became increasingly important in many aspects of daily life, work, and indeed every aspect of society.

This had considerable spin-off in a number of technological sectors, including:

  1. Teleoperation. Often called "waldos" after Heinlein's story, these systems made it possible for operators to remotely control robots or other equipment. Teleoperational systems were especially useful in the exploitation of undersea resources, in construction and manufacturing in space, and in a range of dangerous applications such as firefighting, dealing with radioactive materials, and special military uses. At short ranges teleoperation is extremely effective, but as range increases noise and reduced reaction speed can seriously impair effectiveness.

  2. Man:machine interfaces. While there is still considerable room for improvement, a variety of direct neural connections are now possible. These can be used to allow direct control of external equipment by the operator via a nerve probe, or to provide (usually noisy and distorted; often totally unmappable to existing sensory input) sensory input of one kind or another.

  3. Artificial intelligence. Based on Y2K technologies such as expert systems and knowledge engineering, the new artificial intelligences were capable of synthesizing massive amounts of information to narrow down possible answers. In many cases, they were able to determine answers by themselves, but the majority of the time human intelligence and intuition is still the critical factor in resolving a R&D bottleneck.

  4. Personality storage. It is clear that this is not in any way virtual immortality, as the stored personality is in fact more of a database with no inherent motivations or drive: a dead collection of accessible memory data. Nonetheless, it has proven useful in recording "human histories" of various events and time periods for later reference, and researchers are confident that full transference of a human personality into the electronic medium is only a matter of time.

These trends led to the emergence of new classes within Japanese society: the majority of the population derisively referred to those who preferred nature and face-to-face contact over cyberspace as "hyakushou" (peasants), and the cyberspace jockeys as "ghosts." There was never any actual conflict between the three groups, but there was a distinct polarization within society, and family structures began to shape themselves to follow suit.


The Hayabusa Scandal and the Shinki Restoration

The JDF had been shopping for a new air superiority fighter for several years, and after extensive evaluations, trials and negotiations, the contract for the new "Hayabusa S-327 Atmospheric Combat Platform" was signed with Sagami Heavy Industries in 2188, beating out competing bids from Mitsuboshi and Sumitomi. The Sagami bid was exceedingly close to the secret minimum price set by the government, underbidding the other two firms by a significant margin.

In 2191, the Shin-Nippon Times received an anonymous tip that the minimum bid had been leaked to Sagami by involved JDF officers, in return for bribes. The newspaper began to investigate quietly, and began running into barriers imposed by the military, and then government officials. On September 3, 2191, lead investigative reporter Ariyama Shinji was found dead in his apartment house with a bullet hole in his forehead - the apparent victim of a robbery.

The newspaper immediately published all of the facts, supportive evidence and theories it had accumulated, and demanded that the police find Ariyama's killer. The prosecutor's office immediately established an investigative team, under strong public pressure. It became apparent that not only were the Shin-Nippon's fears correct, but that the conspiracy was considerably broader than had been thought. Warrants were issued and served on 14 JDF officers, 2 Diet members, and 12 other members of various government agencies, along with 8 officers of Sagawa Heavy Industries.

On January 14, 2192, Empress Myouten's eldest son, the Emperor Shinki (radiant heart) demanded a public vote of confidence in the government, calling for new elections for all elected members of the government, including the Prime Minister. The Emperor did not have, legally, the power to do this, but the enormous public outcry at the scandal, coupled with the continuing popularity and public accessibility of the imperial family, made it impossible for the government to refuse. A public vote was held (via cyberspace, of course), followed by general elections. Regardless of the outcome of the vote and elections, though, Emperor Shinki had established the right of the reigning Emperor to call for public votes and new elections, marking a rebirth of Imperial power which was later codified into law. The event has been named the "Shinki Restoration," recognizing the return of considerable authority to the reigning Emperor.

While the scandal and the elections had been held in reaction to corporate bribery and the goal was to achieve a "clean" government, later analysis by historians shows that in fact the newly-elected government had more corporate ties than the old. Although there was little outright bribery or misuse of power, thanks to the recent scandal, campaign contributions were massive, and the result was a rising emphasis on industrial and commercial growth and development. Japanese capital wanted out of tightly-closed Japanese society, and wanted a piece of the potentially enormous interstellar market.

This led, quite directly although without any planning on anyone's part, to an increased interest in development of new frontiers in the sea and space, as well as a new surge in Japanese population growth.


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